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No deal, no sole: Belgium’s fishing industry faces uncertain future

17:19 17/12/2020

Belgium’s fishing boats are facing an unsure future as the Brexit deadline looms ever closer without a deal, and without an agreement on the use of fishing waters.

Belgian fishing boats regularly fish in British waters, and every year the Agriculture and Fisheries Council sets the quota for what and how much can be caught. Normally the quota is set for the entire year, but because of Brexit it has now been set for just the first quarter of 2021.

“We need to plan our year, our catch, without knowing what the year will bring,” fisherman Bruno Decordier of Zeebrugge told VRT. “A fishing boat without a clear permit is like a lorry without the right to transport goods. In other words, good for nothing.”

Without a deal, there is always the possibility that the UK will bar other countries from fishing in its waters. “That would be a catastrophe,” for the Belgian fishing industry, said Decordier.

50% from Britain

Belgian fishing boats gets more than 50% of their catch from British waters, good for about 2,300 jobs. According to Tom Premereur, chair of the Flemish Fish Auction, “corona and a hard Brexit isn’t a double crisis, it’s a crisis squared”.

Belgium’s own waters are limited to just over 2,000 square kilometres, which is home to windmill parks, underwater cables, protected habitats and military domains. That leaves precious little area in which to cast as wide a net as is needed to satisfy Belgium’s love of seafood. And what there is in fishing area is shared with the Netherlands.

“I’ve began fishing in 1986, and we have always fished in British waters,” said Decordier. “We can find cod and plaice elsewhere, Denmark for instance, so there we have options. But we can only get sole in British waters. We really need an agreement, and we are operating with the assumption that there will be one.”

Even if Belgium retains access to the UK’s waters, there is still the matter of a customs and regulatory border, which is sure to cause delays.

Photo courtesy Vlam

Written by Lisa Bradshaw